Ranking the SEC's most successful programs of all-time: 3-1
The SEC’s upper-middle class is difficult to sort, especially when you’re talking about more than 12 decades of program history in many cases.
The very top? Not so difficult.
Alabama and Tennessee are the clear No. 1 and No. 2 among the 14-member institutions, at least when it comes to football. Both programs have rich traditions of fan interest, successful coaches, consistent Top 25 finishes and consensus All-Americans.
We’ve ranked every current SEC team since the inception of the programs across five major categories: national titles, conference titles, all-time winning percentage, Associated Press Top 25 finishes and consensus All-Americans.
Total Points: 18
Claimed National Titles: 3 (3rd)
Conference Titles: 14 (T4th)
All-Time Winning Percentage: .649 (3rd)
Top 25 Finishes: 37 (T3rd)
Consensus All-Americans: 27 (5th)
Nick Saban and Les Miles account for two of the team’s three national championships as well as a combined four SEC titles and numerous All-Americans. But, unlike Florida’s two-headed coaching monster, the Tigers have been good before, especially in the ’50s and ’60s.
As a result, LSU has finished in the final AP Top 25 poll a whopping 37 times and has won nearly two-thirds of its games. The Tigers’ best stretches haven’t lasted as long as Tennessee’s and Alabama’s, and the down years have lasted longer.
LSU’s football history is pretty darned impressive, and probably is underrated nationally compared to teams like Florida, Auburn and Georgia.
Total Points: 15
Claimed National Titles: 6 (2nd)
Conference Titles: 13 (T7th)
All-Time Winning Percentage: .680 (2nd)
Top 25 Finishes: 42 (2nd)
Consensus All-Americans: 38 (2nd)
Thanks to General Robert Neyland, Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer, the Vols may be the only SEC team with a legitimate argument to Alabama for “best collection of coaches.”
Neyland won eight SEC championships by himself, so it’s a bit surprising that there’s such a huge gap in conference titles between UT and Bama (28-13).
It’s no wonder Vols fans are so hungry for coach Butch Jones and the current team to finally stick it to Nick Saban and the Tide one of these years, ending a long losing streak: Alabama is the only SEC team with more national titles, a better winning percentage, more Top 25 finishes and more consensus All-Americans.
Historically, though, UT is the king of the SEC East, easily dispatching close rivals Georgia and Florida on a big-picture scale.
Total Points: 5
Claimed National Titles: 15
Conference Titles: 28
All-Time Winning Percentage: .716
Top 25 Finishes: 52
Consensus All-Americans: 55
If there was any doubt while Mike DuBose, Mike Price and Mike Shula rolled through Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban long since has erased it. Alabama is the most accomplished college football program in the SEC all-time, and probably in the nation.
Not only does Saban’s three SEC titles fall short of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 13, but Frank Thomas — the coach, not the baseball player — won four of his own in the 1930s and ’40s. (It’s almost shocking that the Tide didn’t finish in the AP Top 25 in eight of 11 seasons beginning with the DeBose era and ending with Saban’s second season.)
Bama constructs double-digit win seasons like a mortar factory during the Renaissance Era. Alabama has a 17-player advantage in terms of most consensus All-Americans ever, a number that eclipses the all-time mark of nearly half the SEC.
Whether you want to credit Alabama with all 15 national championships that the program claims, or something less than that, there’s no disputing the team has won more titles by a wide margin than any two schools in the SEC combined.
With barely eight years between national championships on average — throughout its entire history — it’s easier to understand the “championship or bust” mentality of the fan base.